August 2021

Vol. 49, No. 4

A First for Nantucket Island, Massachusetts: Breeding Common Ravens

Skyler Kardell

One of the adult ravens flies from the water tower to Low Beach to collect a piece of rabbit carcass. All photos by Skyler Kardell.

Editor’s Note: For Bird Observer online, click on the underscored dates to see the eBird reports.

For a number of years, Common Raven (Corvus corvax)—along with Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio) and Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)—was put on a short list of birds that can be found on the mainland but are absent from Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island. Prior to 2019, there was only one confirmed record of Common Raven for Nantucket County—a bird seen and photographed by several observers at the Milestone Cranberry Bogs on February 22, 2014. Coincidentally, the second documented record for the island was found less than a mile away from the bogs on August 18, 2019. The prospect of ravens breeding on Nantucket was laughable then. Yet that is the reality in 2021.

Ravens had disappeared in Massachusetts by the early twentieth century, having lost much of their former range in New England due to clear-cutting for agriculture among other causes, and did not reappear until the 1940s (Boarman and Heinrich 2020). It would take another 30 years for the species to populate the Northeast again. At the time of publication of The Birds of Massachusetts in 1993, the status of Common Raven in the eastern part of the state was rare, although it bred in western Massachusetts (Veit and Peterson 1993). By 2013, the Massachusetts Breeding Bird Atlas 2 reported ravens present and breeding statewide—except for Cape Cod and the Islands (Walsh and Petersen 2013). The species’ expansion into the coastal plain is still a recent phenomenon. Only within the last decade have ravens returned to Cape Cod (eBird 2013–2021), where in the early seventeenth century, pilgrim colonizers had reported them as numerous (Veit and Petersen 1993).

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